THE 2018 Health for Juan and Juana Forum (HJJ Forum) held last week gathered the country’s healthcare thought leaders and experts and galvanized their commitment to make Universal Health Care (UHC) happen for all Filipinos. Among the health champions who graced the forum were luminaries who are at the forefront of the UHC advocacy in the country.
Prior to his appointment as Presidential Spokesperson in October 2017, Representative Harry Roque (Kabayan Party-list, 17th Congress) authored House Bill No. 225, one of the precursor bills of what is now known as the UHC bill. Addressing the participants of the HJJ Forum, Mr. Roque reiterated his support for the enactment of the UHC bill currently pending in the Senate. He acknowledged Dr. Ernesto Domingo and the University of the Philippines-Universal Healthcare Study Group for their invaluable inputs in crafting the various UHC bills that have been filed in both houses of Congress through the years.
“The proposed UHC bill promotes and gives realization to the right to health, which is an acknowledged obligation of the state. UHC recognizes the duty of the state to take all positive steps to ensure that all of its citizens shall have the right to health,” Mr. Roque said. He expressed hope that by the end of the year a truly responsive UHC law would be enacted that provides for the health needs of all Filipinos.
Meanwhile, Senator JV Ejercito, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography and author of Senate Bill No. 1458 or the “Universal Health Care for All Filipinos Act,” expressed confidence that they will be able to pass the measure before the end of 2018.
Mr. Ejercito said that the regional public consultations were instrumental in shaping the UHC bill. He was referring to the series of public consultations that his committee held in Cebu City, Davao City, Legazpi City, and Pangasinan where they gathered inputs from local government units (LGUs), healthcare practitioners, and citizens. “Of the various issues that we noted [during the public consultations], health facilities, financing and service delivery were the more pressing concerns… I welcome your recommendations on how to further improve this legislative measure, which I believe we will be able to pass before the end of 2018,” he declared.
During the Legazpi City public consultation, the committee found out that the Bicol Medical Center has a 200% overcapacity rate and Sorsogon province has an average public hospital bed capacity rate of 155%. “This experience and data allowed us to prioritize the passage of local health bills that will increase the bed capacity of various government hospitals in the country,” said the 48-year-old senator, who served as San Juan City mayor for three consecutive terms from 2001 to 2010.
Mr. Ejercito lauded the Sin Tax Reform Act for its groundbreaking impact on health financing, enabling the health sector budget to increase from P57 billion in 2012 to P151 billion in 2017, which has subsidized the PhilHealth coverage of an additional 10.1 million poor families and 2.8 million elderly Filipinos. He believes that financing could make or break the UHC bill as a landmark legislation. “I filed SBN 1605, which aims to increase the cigarette excise tax to P90 by 2018 and stipulate a 9% annual increase in the excise tax thereafter. This proposal is expected to reduce the country’s smoking prevalence rate to 16.6%, which is comparable to that of Singapore, which currently has the lowest smoking prevalence rate in ASEAN.”
Mr. Ejercito highlighted the important role that the private sector will play in the health service delivery network. “For the UHC model that we are pushing to pass, we need to strengthen the linkages between the government and the private sector as its partner in providing basic social services such as health.”
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column that aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues. PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.